Ask Jen Recruiting Questions & Answers: When you are failing to see the disaster coming

I mentioned in a previous column that we all have a tendency to wear blinders about certain aspects of our jobs or businesses, usually that which we regard as uncomfortable or distasteful.  But sometimes we fail to see something because it is completely unthinkable.

 Let me share a recent message I received from a client (with her permission), who owns and runs a small company:

“Jennifer, if I wasn’t sure before what you meant about having blinders on, it is painfully clear to me now. I just lost the most senior member of my team. She quit very abruptly and unexpectedly, without any notice. I am devastated because I have known her a long time as a professional colleague – long before she came to work for me. I was so thrilled when she came on board, I put a lot of time and effort into training her. I literally taught her everything she knows about this business. She learned quickly and became very productive, independent, and successful. She was also extremely loyal, so I trusted her completely and took her into my confidence. She brought in so much business, I treated her like a partner.

“Looking back now, I realize I failed to see the signs. I was in denial. While I may have treated her like a partner, the fact is, she was not. Two years ago, she had asked to be made a partner. For personal and professional reasons at the time, I told her there was no way that could happen. She never brought up the issue again and continued to excel in her work, so I thought I everything was fine.

“To say that her departure is a setback is an understatement. On top of dealing with a sudden and significant loss of revenue, I now have to devote considerable energy to finding and training a new person. She was such an exemplary asset, replacing her could easily take a year or more. I’ve always thought of myself as a pretty shrewd business person, but I was naïve and ignorant. I thought it would go on forever.”

Every business owner or manager recognizes that a certain amount of employee turnover comes with the territory. Still, the sudden and unexpected departure of a person who is core to your company’s business is another matter altogether – particularly for smaller businesses. It does happen.

As you can imagine, my client is doing a lot of reflecting and processing. Not only has she identified the many signs she missed, but she’s also recognized mistakes she made as an employer, gleaning some corollary lessons to strengthen her management skills and business planning.

How might you know that a key person is thinking about moving on? Here are some of the signs:Spending a lot of time on the phone and on non-work-related issues.A change in attitude or even disinterest in the business, the company, or you. People become distant and not as engaged to avoid revealing too much.Not showing up for or constantly rescheduling meetings, taking a lot of time off, and/or being out of the office frequently, yet always having a plausible reason or excuse.A notable change of attire. They begin dressing very nicely and professionally a lot more often.Changes in their social media profiles, such as following other companies but not yours, or participating in industry-related activities that you should know about but don’t.

 Lessons learned for employers to take away:

 Discuss goals regularly—your company’s, yours, and your employees’—and have a plan in place to help employees grow professionally.  Most people want to advance and if they are not able to, you can be certain they will eventually move on. Everyone needs to do what is best for themselves. It’s not always about money, either. Are you doing everything you can to keep your key team members and employees happy? Are you valuing and nurturing them or are you taking them for granted? Checking their public social media profiles occasionally can be one good indicator. For one reason or another, my client had stopped discussing goals with a key contributor to her company’s success. In failing to recognize and address this individual’s desire for professional advancement, my client ultimately hurt herself.


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